Aseffa Abreha 8-2-19
Sometime ago, a presentation of a three-year development plan of the Tigray Development Association (TDA) was broadcast by its Board Chairman, Engineer Yemane Tadesse. I found the presentation very impressive. It is clearly thought out, well designed and presented. The Board Chairman explained with clarity the contribution of TDA, especially in the areas of education and health, to Tigray’s development, although in terms of quality of education it leaves much to be desired. At the same time, the presentation shows how long we have come in terms of the level of communication and information technology development from the time TDA was established on August 12, 1989 at Howard University, Washington DC., USA. TDA’s motto at its establishment was to support Tigray with whatever each concerned Tigrayan owned – money, knowledge, labour, etc. Engineer Tadesse could now easily reach Tigrayans dispersed throughout the world by using his power point presentation thanks to technology development.
Some of the trying times of the armed struggle included, among others, the raining of bombs on the people and Tegadelti of Tigray both from the sky and ground by the Derg with full support of the Soviet Union and its allies. To make matters worse for them, the most severe drought of 1984-85 confronted the people of Tigray. The reaction of the world was immediate and made food assistance available to Ethiopia. However, the Derg would not let food aid go through to Tigray. Instead, the Derg designed its cruel policy of “dry the sea to eliminate the fish” by luring people to collection centers to receive food assistance. But instead of providing them with the promised food, families were separated and hauled away with Soviet made lorries to various parts of the country. Thus, the Soviet Union and its allies, instead of saving lives, became accomplices in hauling starving people to other parts of the country. The TPLF had thus to devise other strategies. One was to get food assistance from the international community through the Sudan.
An important point to note at this juncture was that this critical strategy faced an unexpected obstacle. It would have been unimaginable at that time to expect that two antagonistic and irreconcilable forces would agree on one agenda. After the Derg prevented food assistance to go through to Tigray, another route was considered to get international food assistance to liberated Tigray. This time around the attempt was made from Sudan through Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) controlled areas. Like the Derg. The EPLF refused to allow food assistance to the dying people of Tigray. The TPLF then had to mobilize the people to clear a dry weather road from Western Tigray to Sudan. It was an amazing feat. Within a few days the dry weather road network became operational.
One of the most dramatic scenes that I vividly remember and could never forget at the camp was the way our people behaved. They barely had food while trekking to Sudan for all those days. When they arrived, representatives of international humanitarian agencies were there ready with truck-loads of food. Our people got their assigned tents and were seated in front of their tents. The trucks were in front of them too. We and the representatives stood facing them and were able to watch their reaction in amazement. There was no movement whatsoever until their representatives had to be called in turns to receive their shares for each group. The representatives were dumbfounded because they were expecting the starving people would rush to get their share when they saw food. That did not happen in the case of our people. In spite of trekking for days on end with hardly any food, our people showed tremendous dignity in those most trying times. With that long trek and hardly any food traveling to Sudan, the people who moved to Sudan for a short but trying period showed immense pride in one of the most trying periods of their time. Watching that, we were very proud. Abadi Zemo, Tedros Hagos, two or three others and this writer were there standing.
The second strategy was to transport food assistance from Sudan through the new road built by the people at the direction of the TPLF to those at home who could not make it to Sudan. It was at this critical period that the people and Tegadelti of Tigray kept asking whether Tigrayans in Europe and America knew about what was going on in Tigray at the time. In fact, they specifically kept asking whether or not Tigrayans outside of the country were demonstrating against the Soviet Union and its allies outside their embassies for supporting the inhuman bombardment of Tigray by the Derg and what they were also doing to help their people. It was during these difficult times both for the people and Tegadelti of Tigray that the idea of TDA was conceptualized and the message carried on to the Tigrayan sidetegnat in Europe and North America from 1985 to 1989. They then responded by establishing TDA through a founding conference organized with the assistance of the Washington D.C. Office of the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) in August 1989 at Howard University, Washington, D.C. This writer made a presentation at the opening of the TDA founding conference explaining the efforts made between1985 to 1989 that led to that point. He also delivered the message mentioned above that he carried from the tegadelti and people of Tigray in his many travels to media i.e., “what are our children living in the west doing to try to help their people back home”. It can thus be said that TDA is the brain child of the people and Tegadelti of Tigray.